Electricity

February 15, 2005
 
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 What do lightning, a flashlight, an alarm clock battery, and a toaster have in common?

Light bulbAre you still thinking? Here are more items to add to the list: a Plugcomputer, a car battery, a light bulb, the shock you feel when you shuffle across a carpet and then touch something. Their common link isn't something magical...
They are powered by a form of energy called ELECTRICITY. It helps us do many things.

Model of an AtomThe Atom To study electricity you must first understand something very important...

Everything is made of atoms. They are a very tiny particles made up of even tinier particles. The central part of an atom, called the nucleus, contains protons and neutrons. Orbiting around the outside of the nucleus are electrons. Protons, neutrons and electrons have their own characteristics. One of these is called an electrical charge. Protons carry a "positive" charge while electrons carry a "negative" charge. Neutrons carry no charge. Electricity happens when electrons get temporarily taken away from an atom.
Now that we have more information, it's time to look at our definition of electricity.
ELECTRICITY
is a form of energy produced by the movement of electrons.  
A Little Electrical History...  
                            Just 200 years ago, electricity was not used to power anything in the world.
                            Who do we have to thank for discovering how to use it?
Ben Franklin
Electricity was not invented.
It occurs naturally in our world. People, however, have invented ways to measure it and to control it for our use.
Ben Franklin
started working with electricity in 1740's. He believed that lightning was a flow of electricity taking place in nature. He performed his famous kite experiment in 1752 which proved that electricity and lightning were the same thing.

Learn more about this great man and his experiment at
The Franklin Institute Online.
Thomas Edison, inventor

Thomas Alva Edison is another name important in the history of electricity. In the late 1800's he developed 1,093 inventions, but his most famous is the incandescent light bulb. He wanted to bring light into homes and factories. Up until then people used candles or whale oil lamps for light.

There's more about Mr. Edison at
The Franklin Institute Online
.    


How many kinds of electricity are there?

Let's think about the above examples for a minute... Did you notice that they don't all have wires! Electricity doesn't exist only in things with wires. The reason is that there are two kinds of electricity: static and current.
  

STATIC ELECTRICITY:  The Facts
CURRENT ELECTRICITY: The Facts

a build up of electrons

the steady flow of electrons between objects or places. It comes from far away on wires.

stays in one place until it jumps to an object

needs a conductor, a substance that allows electrons to move easily through it

does not need a circuit

needs a closed circuit to flow

the kind of electricity you feel after you drag your feet across a carpet and touch someone or something

the kind of electricity that powers the appliances and heat in your home

lightning is static electricity on a more spectacular scale

the kind of electricity in a battery

If you dare, don't miss this information about static electricity. If you don't believe static electricity can bend water or attract pieces of cereal, try these activities.

Lightning is a more spectacular example of static electricity. You just HAVE TO look at these photos of lightning and NASA's movies of lightning from space.

Now that you know all of this I bet you want to know,
How electricity is made?
You might think that it is difficult to tame and use something that you can't see. However, people have learned to make electricity with these three power sources.
The power source sets the electrons in motion. They are:


How does electricity move from these power sources?

Scientists call the path that electricity takes an electric circuit. A circuit has three parts: an energy source, a connection, and a load. The energy source gives the electricity its "push" through a circuit. For example: a battery or a generator. This push is called voltage and is similar to water pressure in a hose. The connection is a substance that is a good conductor. For example: a copper wire. A load is the part operated by the electricity, such as a light bulb or a TV.

Batteries in a seriesA circuit must not have any breaks in it for electrons to flow continuously. A light switch is an example of a device which opens and closes a circuit and, therefore, the flow of electrons. Watch this neat movie which demonstrates how an electric circuit is arranged and which also explores good conductors. You can make your own circuit if you follow these directions.


What else do you need to know
?

Inside a circuit there is a flow of electrons called a current. Currents are measured in amperes. There are two kinds of currents: direct current and alternating current. In a direct current the electrons flow in only one direction. In an alternating current the electrons move back and forth very fast. Batteries have direct current. The current in your house is alternating current.

Frankenstein's Lightning Laboratory has an activity that demonstrates how a current works.
 

Shocking clipart Be Safe!
Are you ready for this? Your brain and muscles need electricity in a very tiny amount to work. Because of this, large amounts of electricity are very dangerous to you. The electricity flowing through a light bulb is enough to stop your breathing. Learn about this and other electrical dangers or with Frankenstein.

 Kids! Have fun exploring CHARGED UP LINKS. Teachers! Head for HAIR-RAISING SITES and REFERENCES. Here is a GLOSSARY of electrical terms.
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